Friday, 17 October 2014

Old Times, at Stantonbury Theatre, Review

Going to see The Play's The Thing Theatre Company production of Old Times by Harold Pinter at the Stantonbury Theatre in Milton Keynes last night was a thought provoking experience.

The story is set in a remote farmhouse, the first act in the lounge and the second in the bedroom. Anna (played by Beverley Longhurst) is an attractive and apparently sophisticated woman yet her speech appears to come from a bygone age. Anna unexpectedly visits the more homely Kate (Kathryn Worth) her old flatmate and Kate's husband Deeley (Alex Reece). As the play unfolds they reminisce about their experiences in London twenty years previously. However, as the evening moves on a dark web is woven revealing, as the programme synopsis put it, "a game of power and possession as memories unfold and are used as weapons of sinister manipulation".

The play which has some very amusing one liners in amongst the darkness ends but never fully concludes and you are left to come to your own conclusion as to what exactly you had seen and heard. Pinter, we discovered, is not for the lazy; it demands intellectual engagement and left Karl and I in deep conversation afterwards trying to figure it out.

It was a very well acted production with a strong cast. Beverley Longhurst stood out as having a particularly strong stage presence but one couldn't be sure how much of that was related to the character, particularly as Anna appeared to somewhat erotically flirt with Kate, and how much came from the actress herself.

For parts of the play the character of Kate is largely silent whilst she is being discussed by the other two and so the acting required relates largely to showing reaction through facial expression and body language. Kathryn Worth played the part wonderfully and was entirely believable as the middle-aged housewife.

Alex Reece played the part of Deeley very well but was never entirely convincing. Indeed in those places which consciously referred to the events being discussed being 20 years ago his presence was a distraction. The problem was not in his acting which was excellent, particularly towards the end of the play when he is required to sob, but rather in his casting. Reece simply looked too young and both Karl and I kept thinking but he would have been about 12 then, although a look at his biography online indicates he is of the right age for the part. It was just he looked far too young and fresh faced compared to the two women he was playing alongside.  

It was a play I was glad I had gone to see. It was well produced and directed by Rosemary Hill, a leading arts figure in Milton Keynes, who founded The Play's The Thing Theatre Company in 2008. Besides introducing me to Pinter's work which I enjoyed the challenge of it introduced me to a wonderful venue.

The Stantonbury Theatre is a modern well equipped building which is part of a wider community campus also containing a school, gallery, gym and church. Beyond Milton Keynes the venue itself would be described as an arts theatre being quite intimate and putting on relatively small scale professional performances, which seem to go between the educational (Shakespeare) and the challenging (Pinter). Now I have discovered this gem I look forward to seeing more work there.

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